Returning to Abstract Drawing

by Thom Wright January 2022

After my long stretch of abstract painting during the last 18 months of Covid-19 isolation, I decided that it’s time to begin a new series of work.  So for the past two weeks, I have been reading art books again, and looking for ideas and themes appropriate for this New Year.  In addition, I was experimenting with different media, including ink drawing, watercolor, collage with art papers and with found papers, and colored-inks printed papers.  For design ideas, I was also going back to my favorite art books, including “History of Art”, by Arnason, 9th Edition. Although I reviewed existing art works, I kept in mind that I wanted to create new paintings.

How does an artist develop a new painting series?  From my own experience I would say that one returns to his/her roots in becoming an artist.  So did I again this time, and it makes for an idiosyncratic story to be told here about how I make art.  It takes me back about 12 years ago too.

An example of my early mixed-media work is shown below in Fig. 1 below.

“The Strand at Huntington #10”, Mixed media on paper, 15.5” x 22”, Thom Wright  2010 Sold

In this semi-abstract architectural painting done 12 years ago, you can see the side-by-side use of watercolor, india ink, toned-color papers collage, and two black pieces of building insulation material that are on the central building.  They are one of the many collage materials that I found on-site and used in my mixed-media paintings.  One of these is a black insulation material that is a woven plastic sheeting. It is extensively used on the entire framing structure of the building for weather proofing, before it is plastered and painted. In this example of mixed media painting, the plastic pieces show their edges where I have exposed black and grey plastic squares made in the manufactured material.  In my painting, these small plastic strips have weaved strips of plastic together, about 1/8” wide, with the finished sheeting having black on one side and grey on the other.  But in my painting, I pulled apart small strips of the plastic using pliers, and in the ripping exposed the checkerboard grey and black squares along the edges.  And these torn edges provide a softened transition from the black plastic material to the painted watercolor on paper.  It worked effectively, and I am the only known artist to incorporate it in my watercolor/collage paintings.

Of course I brought home many large sheets of discarded scraps of paper from the building site, including the black plastic insulation wrapping to use in my future paintings.  My long-deceased wife, Linda, also bought many Japanese-made art papers for me.  The photo below shows an example of the contents of one of my art-bags of found papers.

“Thom’s Art Papers Bag with black plastic insulation material”

Now in my search for a new painting series, I decided to return to mixed-media painting on paper, and in addition, to include some of my found insulation material from 12 years ago.  No, I did not throw it out, and I finally decided to begin using it again. 

For the paper painting surface, I chose “German Printmaking Paper”, that I still had in my paper storage from my art school days.  Its unique tan-grey color, good thickness, and smooth surface would work well with acrylic adhesive on collage material. And for my first art work, I chose to do a simple black/tan composition that incorporated small, torn pieces of the black insulation material mounted on small sheets of German print paper.

Using 11” x 8” pieces of German paper, that I fortunately also found in my storage file, I began this project.  First of all, I scored the paper using a coarse 60 grade sandpaper to add faint vertical/horizontal lines to the paper.  Then I painted a light-black, India-ink wash of vertical stripes on the vertical format.  Then I tore fairly small pieces of the plastic insulation material, that gave me a wide variety of rectangular shapes that included strips with black and grey squares on their edges. I then added small strips of a translucent, grey paper to the placed shapes to extend their shapes and emphasize their vertical orientation. These pieces were glued to the paper using acrylic matt gel, which is transparent when dry and adhers to almost all materials. Then I continued making small additions of thinned India ink in and around the plastic pieces to integrate and soften the black/tan edges.  Finally, I added black ink lines to the outer edges and the bottom of the rectangular paper. The figure below shows my first work.

“First B/W work on German Paper”, 11” x 8”, mixed media on paper, Thom Wright  2022

In this work the collaged plastic insulation papers become the random mix of shapes distributed on the paper.  Notice how the scored paper lines catch the light India ink and create an informal grid that all of the shapes can relate to. The added transparent grey strips of paper also relate to and extend the black plastic shapes.  The arrangement/design of the black pieces creates an oval of shapes around a central small black square.  Thus, all of the parts of the design work together in a balanced design.  Note also that the little black/grey plastic squares on the edges of the black pieces add a greater complexity to the shapes and to the design.  Remember too that these are quite small pieces, and yet they resemble city-scapes with buildings and machines.  I might add that these considerations of size, shape and position of the parts are the crux of its two-dimensional design.

Continuing with the next work, I chose a simpler design with fewer black plastic shapes, to emphasize the open space in the center versus the greater density of shapes in the first work.  I also added two white plastic shapes with added light ink washes and paper collages that extend the shapes.  In addition, there are two linear diagonal pieces that add new character to their shapes.  Adding the outer lines copies the format of the first work.  The figure below shows the second work.

“Second B/W work on German Paper”, 11” x 8”, Mixed media on paper, Thom Wright  2022

At this point I need to describe my thoughts about the what and why of these new works.  My past series of paintings have been focused on climate change that now dominates our future.  Accordingly, I wanted to direct this new series of work in the same way.  Of course, now in 2022, climate change is a world-recognized existential threat to humanity.  Our global lack of action creates a dark and sinister future that is difficult to not recognize.  Accordingly, the stark Black/tan compositions here are not cheerful or non-objective, and in a way describe an aspect of our industrial revolution that also contributed to the rising level of green-house gases in the atmosphere that is causing the rapidly increasing extremes of climate change. Consequently, I chose the title of this series as “Carbon Capture Cycle”.  There is carbon in the ink and in the plastic made by human manufacturing processes.

While I was working on these two small papers, I conveniently received a free-gift art frame from my son Chris and his wife Krista, who found it out in the trash on the street by their house.  But it was an odd, oblong rectangle of a black frame with a 28” x 16” opening.  My two first art works were destined now to be arranged in this frame.  I did restain the frame black and cleaned the glass, added another sheet of German paper to mount the two small art works in a vertical format, and then found the perfect “dark yellow” matt board to mount the works together.  The completed piece is shown below.

“Carbon Capture Cycle #1”, diptych, 28” x 16”, Mixed media on paper, Thom Wright 2022

For those who are familiar with my earlier art work, this is a stark change in many ways.  I will continue painting in my other series as well as with this one, and see how they may both change direction in the future.

Published by Thom Wright Art

Thom Wright has combined his passions for art, music and engineering, and all of his practices have benefited each other. In 1986, he had an epiphany, one of those moments when he realized that he had to be a better artist. His subject matter moved toward contemporary issues, including geopolitics, global environment, technology, cultural and natural processes of change, and jazz. His abstracts also migrated towards mixed media and printmaking. These interests and processes continue in his art work. Desiring to improve his skills, theory and knowledge in art, he took early retirement from the Boeing Corp. in 1999 and entered art school full time. In May, 2006, he completed the MFA program in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: